posted by meowser
The way I chew things over endlessly — hell, I practically Fletcherize them — I think I’d be about the worst political blogger you could ever imagine, at least on an everyday basis. A far better one than I, Ta-Nahesi Coates of the Atlantic, posted something a couple of weeks ago that’s still banging around my brain.
In the aftermath of that legislative pilonidal sac known as Proposition (h)8 passing in California, and that one exit poll in the LA Times that told the world on the basis of DINKY-ASSED sample size that 70% of black Californians (amounting to no more than 10% of the total vote) voted to invalidate same-sex marriage forever, Coates took on Dan Savage and other white Obama voters who saw fit to bag on black people on the basis of, “We voted for their thing, how come they didn’t vote for our thing?” (A point of view I will admit to being completely flummoxed by. What are we now, eight years old?) Coates dared to suggest that perhaps the vote — if the exit poll was even to be believed — was indicative of the fact that his fellow black people are, funnily enough, actually people, and not inherently more noble because of the discrimination they’ve suffered:
But if you believe black people are not just receptacles for bigotry, not just automatons programmed by centuries of racism, if you believe they consume oxygen like the Irish, that they ingest solid food like the Italians, that they enjoy a good drink like the denizens of Appalachia, that they like to party like gays of any color, that they like to dance like white women, then you understand that no group, anywhere, ever was ennobled by oppression. (The Jews, maybe? No?)
And it took only two comments in for one of my fellow Jews to shoot down that final parenthetical:
I think this is the crux of the problem. As a Jew, let me speak of my people with wildly sweeping generalities. I think the history of Jewish oppression culminating in the Holocaust minted two kinds of Jews: those that said, “Oppression, like the kind we suffered, is wrong,” and “The oppression we suffered is wrong.”
No freakin’ poopie! My cousin S., who I personally avoid like Mycoplasma, but who my father stays in regular contact with in the interest of “staying in touch with family” no matter how reflux-inducing, is definitely one of those “why us?” people. S. looks under every possible rock for anti-Israel sentiment, which she equates to anti-Semitism, despite never having lived in Israel. But she does remember a time not so very long ago when being Jewish in North America was far more frought with everyday danger than it is today, when a Jewish family moving into a suburban neighborhood was thought to depress property values, when crosses regularly got burned on Jewish families’ lawns and swastikas on their front doors, when being a Jew could easily get you beaten to a pulp if you so much as got out of your car to get gas in the “wrong” gas station. You’d think this would translate into making S. more aware of the perils of prejudice against all stigmatized groups. Nope, not even in the same zipcode. She’d gladly be the commandant, as long as it wasn’t “her” people being rounded up.
(Incidentally, that entire comment thread over at Coates’ place has some great stuff in it. I highly recommend it.)
I like to think that I’m not a whole lot like S. I actually care about whether or not I’m an asshole. Sometimes I think I care way too much about it, in fact, and wind up thinking I’m the bitter dregs of the galaxy for my shortcomings. However, I’m also well aware that not wanting to be an asshole, no matter how badly you want it, is not the same thing as actually not being one. And so, I have to ask myself: “Can I say I’m completely free of that? Is there anything about this fat-hating thing that pisses me off because, goddamnit, being fat eats into my white privilege?”
Unfortunately, I’m afraid the answer is “yes.” I always want to know why I’m not one of the lucky ones who gets to weasel out of this working-for-a-living thing, why God hasn’t “blessed” me the way Hesheitthey have “blessed” other people (yeah, yeah, I know), skinny people, WASPY-beautiful people who get to do what they loooooooove and get paid buckets for it and don’t even have to try that hard, it just happens for them. There are three or four people like that, right? Right. And I’m not one of them. I have to count the minutes to the weekend just like any other non-privileged slob. Waaaahhhh. Pass the lotion tissues.
But you know, pettiness and small-mindedness like I’m copping to here are probably anything but rare, and most people who think that way, like S., probably don’t even apologize for feeling that way. Or, as Coates puts it, “Groups of people who end up on the bad end of history aren’t heroic, they aren’t better for it, they’re just down–and, in most cases, they’d put the victors down if they could.”
I’ve always wondered why it is that we in fat acceptance were having such a hard time convincing other fat people, never mind thin people, that they were getting a raw deal in society and that loving their bodies as-is would bring them greater liberation than trying endlessly to get and stay thin. But never before have I connected it to my feelings about my socioeconomic status. Despite my boyfriend telling me a million times over, “You keep comparing yourself to the people who have more than you, not to the people who have less than you,” I just kept looking “up” and feeling like a loser, feeling like I wasn’t trying hard enough to “make it,” that I blew my chances, feeling like someone handed me the awesomepill and I just carelessly flushed it down the john. Every once in a while I’d get the nagging feeling that maybe, just maybe, there was something a lot more wrong with the “system” than there was with me, that picking out a precious few winners and dismissing everyone else as a fuckbag nobody was deeply screwy and no way to run a healthy society, but that didn’t stop me from feeling like shit for not being one of the “winners.” Sounds kind of like the dieting world…doesn’t it?
So now that I understand that telling fat (or even pre-fat) people not to freak out about their weight is like telling a cat not to eat catgrass — i.e. some will resist, but most won’t, no matter what I do to distract them — what can I do instead, when I hear the Fat Talk starting up all around me? Well, for starters, I can quit acting so frigging smug and self-righteous about it, and realize that I have my own toxic idees fixes that I’m working on pulverizing, and that doing so can take a lot of time and a lot of work. I can at least say I understand the desire, even if I don’t currently share it. And then I can go right ahead and enjoy the food I’m lucky enough to be able to eat, even on my shoelace-tight budget. Right in front of everybody.
Hey, I’m old enough to remember when even most hetero liberals found the idea of same-sex marriage risibly freakish; it certainly didn’t become acceptable to a large and growing chunk of the population overnight. (And as an ex-Californian, I just want to add that I am NOT surprised by Prop 8’s passage. Google “Prop 187” and “Prop 209” if you want chapter and verse on the deeply reactionary streak of my supposedly moonbeam-liberal ex-state.) But dayyyym, if you ever needed to be smacked upside the hoohah with the idea that fat is NOT “the last socially acceptable prejudice,” you need look no further. Not only did we see that homobigotry is still very much crowed about by “respectable” people, but racism is too. But that’s the nature of progress. Chip…chip…chip…CRACK, and there’s President Obama, winning in a rout. (I still have to pinch myself that the phrase “President Obama” is actually for real!) It doesn’t mean there isn’t still more chipping to do, lots of it, and maybe always will be, in lots of different areas. And it doesn’t mean I get to weasel out of it because I’m way too special for all of that, and that all I have to do is sit around and hope someone hands me the magic wand to make it all go away.
I don’t have a magic wand. Probably nobody does. But I have a teaspoon. And while I’m using it to chip away at “them,” I’ll remember to do some chipping away at the “them” that lives in me.